In Photos: Caught Amidst the Caste Wars of UP’s Saharanpur
Over the past one month, Saharanpur has witnessed multiple clashes between the Thakur and the Dalit communities. (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>)
Over the past one month, Saharanpur has witnessed multiple clashes between the Thakur and the Dalit communities. (Photo: The Quint)

In Photos: Caught Amidst the Caste Wars of UP’s Saharanpur

On the 5th, we witnessed the Thakurs swarming ominously into Shabbirpur, armed with swords and guns and raising slogans of “Ambedkar Murdabad”. They stormed our homes and burned them down. They torched our vehicles and desecrated the Ravidas mandir we pray at.
Parli, Dalit Woman, Shabbirpur
Parli laments, “The rioters entered my house and damaged our vehicles”. (Photo: Meghnad Bose/<b>The Quint</b>)
Parli laments, “The rioters entered my house and damaged our vehicles”. (Photo: Meghnad Bose/The Quint)

It was a Thakur rally passing through Shabbirpur that sparked off the violence between the two communities last Friday.

Over the past one month, the district of Saharanpur in western Uttar Pradesh has witnessed multiple incidents of caste-based violence. The result? Houses burned, vehicles torched, several injured, and one youngster dead.

As a heavy deployment of security forces keep watch over the uneasy peace in Saharanpur’s villages, both Dalits and Thakurs are angry. At each other, and at the state.

Saharanpur, the caste tinderbox of Uttar Pradesh. (Photo: Abhay Sharma/<b>The Quint</b>)
Saharanpur, the caste tinderbox of Uttar Pradesh. (Photo: Abhay Sharma/The Quint)

In the village of Rasoolpur, Biram Singh mourns the loss of his 27-year-old son, Sumit, to caste violence. It was only a week ago that he had got the call, informing him that Sumit was no more. The cause – a clash between members of his Thakur community and the local Dalits of Shabbirpur.

Sumit’s father Biram Singh is at the centre of a crowd of Thakurs gathered outside his house, discussing the violence that killed his son. (Photo: Abhay Sharma/<b>The Quint</b>)
Sumit’s father Biram Singh is at the centre of a crowd of Thakurs gathered outside his house, discussing the violence that killed his son. (Photo: Abhay Sharma/The Quint)
27-year-old Sumit Singh died in the clashes between Dalits and Thakurs in Shabbirpur on 5 May. (Photo: Abhay Sharma/<b>The Quint</b>)
27-year-old Sumit Singh died in the clashes between Dalits and Thakurs in Shabbirpur on 5 May. (Photo: Abhay Sharma/The Quint)

Over 50 Dalit houses in Shabbirpur were torched in the clashes.

(Photo: Abhay Sharma/<b>The Quint</b>)
(Photo: Abhay Sharma/The Quint)
With mutual cooperation, their Shivratris and our Ravidas Jayantis always passed off peacefully. But recently, people coming in from outside have been fostering unrest between the Thakurs and us Dalits.
Munish Devi, Dalit woman in Shabbirpur
A group of Dalit women accuse the state government of apathy, Munish (fourth from left) concurs (Photo: Meghnad Bose/<b>The Quint</b>)
A group of Dalit women accuse the state government of apathy, Munish (fourth from left) concurs (Photo: Meghnad Bose/The Quint)
Razed to the ground and charred beyond recognition, this house is entirely deserted. Neighbours tell us that the residents are still in hospital, being tended to for the injuries suffered during the clashes. As and when they do return, there is not much left to call home.
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    What the arson left behind in Shabbirpur (Photo: Abhay Sharma/<b>The Quint</b>)
    What the arson left behind in Shabbirpur (Photo: Abhay Sharma/The Quint)
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    What the arson left behind in Shabbirpur (Photo: Abhay Sharma/<b>The Quint</b>)
    What the arson left behind in Shabbirpur (Photo: Abhay Sharma/The Quint)
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    What the arson left behind in Shabbirpur (Photo: Abhay Sharma/<b>The Quint</b>)
    What the arson left behind in Shabbirpur (Photo: Abhay Sharma/The Quint)

Enter Ambedkar’s Army

Following the clashes in Shabbirpur on 5 May, Dalits across Saharanpur called for a mahapanchayat on 9 May. At the helm of the efforts to unite the community was advocate Chandrashekhar Azad and his Bhim Army.

The 29-year-old leads a cohort of young volunteers with a mission to fight against oppression of Dalits. Though the organisation is less than two years old, it has already made quite a name for itself. Its latest claim to fame though are allegations of arson and violence against police personnel.

Police allege that members of Chandrashekhar’s Bhim Army indulged in arson and violence against cops on 9 May, after the Dalit mahapanchayat was disallowed. (Photo: Abhay Sharma/<b>The Quint</b>)
Police allege that members of Chandrashekhar’s Bhim Army indulged in arson and violence against cops on 9 May, after the Dalit mahapanchayat was disallowed. (Photo: Abhay Sharma/The Quint)

Also Read: Lawyer Heading Bheem Army Behind Saharanpur Violence, Says Police

Chandrashekhar’s defence sounds like one a seasoned politician would make. “The Bhim Army does not believe in violence as a method of protest. All our activities are in accordance with Babaseheb’s Constitution. It was the police who lathicharged the Dalits who had gathered there. Some of them may have retaliated in response to the police’s unnecessary violence.”

Interestingly enough, Chandrashekhar’s bike has a police sticker plastered on it along with one saluting Ambedkar. (Photo: Meghnad Bose/<b>The Quint</b>)
Interestingly enough, Chandrashekhar’s bike has a police sticker plastered on it along with one saluting Ambedkar. (Photo: Meghnad Bose/The Quint)

Dalit protesters burned a memorial site that was being built to commemorate Maharana Pratap in Ramnagar, Saharanpur.

The charred building that was to house a memorial for Maharana Pratap. (Photo: Abhay Sharma/<b>The Quint</b>)
The charred building that was to house a memorial for Maharana Pratap. (Photo: Abhay Sharma/The Quint)

A police chowki in Ramnagar was also gutted in the violence between Dalits and police personnel on 9 May. The station was deserted when we visited it on Thursday, save for two painters who were busy getting the chowki back in shape for work to recommence there.

(Photo: Abhay Sharma/<b>The Quint</b>)
(Photo: Abhay Sharma/The Quint)

Outside the chowki, burnt police documents and vehicles lay next to each other – each as good as worthless rubble.

(Photo: Abhay Sharma/<b>The Quint</b>)
(Photo: Abhay Sharma/The Quint)

The violence on 9 May has resulted in heavy police deployment across Saharanpur. Along with several companies of the UP Police moving to the district from elsewhere in the state, the Rapid Response Force has also been brought in from Meerut.

Rapid Response Force personnel guard an Ambedkar statue in Ramnagar, Saharanpur. (Photo: Meghnad Bose/<b>The Quint</b>)
Rapid Response Force personnel guard an Ambedkar statue in Ramnagar, Saharanpur. (Photo: Meghnad Bose/The Quint)

Among the locals, there are those who haven’t taken kindly to the damage to public and private property caused by Dalit protesters on Tuesday.

Vinish Kumar is a Kshatriya shopkeeper in Ramnagar. He claims that the gates of the residential complex he stays in was attacked by a Dalit mob on 9 May.

With these acts of aggression, the Bhim Army is deepening the caste divide instead of reducing it. Their methods are wrong, violence cannot be the answer.
Vinish Kumar (Photo: Meghnad Bose/<b>The Quint</b>)
Vinish Kumar (Photo: Meghnad Bose/The Quint)

Jitender Kumar Chopra, 72, works as a security guard at the Sun City residential complex where Vinish stays. “The mob pelted stones, shattered the windows of my post and broke this door too. They were hurling stones at a few of the houses that were close to the road as well. Why damage private property? What have the people here done to them?”

(Photo: Meghnad Bose/<b>The Quint</b>)
(Photo: Meghnad Bose/The Quint)

We questioned the locals in Shabbirpur about the allegations of violence surfacing against members of the Bhim Army.

Anita Devi, from the Dalit community, retorts vociferously.

The administration is accusing the Bhim Army after the violence on the 9th. But where are the accusations against the Thakurs for coming into our houses with swords and burning our homes down? Where are the accusations against the police for standing by and watching while the Thakur mob rampaged through our village?  
Anita Devi, a Dalit woman in Shabbirpur, asks why the brunt of the allegations of violence always falls on the lower castes. (Photo: Abhay Sharma/<b>The Quint</b>)
Anita Devi, a Dalit woman in Shabbirpur, asks why the brunt of the allegations of violence always falls on the lower castes. (Photo: Abhay Sharma/The Quint)

Munish Devi adds, “The Bhim Army is on our side. They are not wrong. Hold the state government responsible if you have to. What is Yogi ji doing to solve the issue? Nothing.”

And as the handful of Dalit women gathered there raged against the inequalities they faced for being born Dalits – Anita Devi’s nine-year-old daughter, who had stood by, quietly listening to every word, let teardrops roll onto her cheeks.
Indu, Anita Devi’s daughter, breaks into tears on listening to her mother complain about the way Dalits are treated in times of unrest. (Photo: Abhay Sharma/<b>The Quint</b>)
Indu, Anita Devi’s daughter, breaks into tears on listening to her mother complain about the way Dalits are treated in times of unrest. (Photo: Abhay Sharma/The Quint)

Also Read: Ambedkar's Army - a Dalit Force Fights Caste Atrocities in Uttar Pradesh

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